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Reactive Arthritis

Reiter's Syndrome

What is reactive arthritis? — Reactive arthritis is a kind of arthritis that happens after certain infections. It causes pain and swelling in joints.
Reactive arthritis usually affects people who have or just had:
Food poisoning or another kind of infection of the intestines
An infection that you catch through sex
In the past, reactive arthritis was sometimes called "Reiter syndrome."
What are the symptoms of reactive arthritis? — The main symptoms of reactive arthritis are pain and swelling in the joints. These usually happen 1 to 4 weeks after an infection. In most cases, the symptoms affect only a few joints, usually in the knees, ankles, or feet.
Other symptoms might include:
Pain in the tendons in the feet and ankles (tendons are tough bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones)
Irritation of the eye called "conjunctivitis" (also known as pink eye)
Pain when urinating
Is there a test for reactive arthritis? — No. There is no test. But if your doctor or nurse can figure out what type of germ caused your infection, he or she should be able to tell if you have reactive arthritis. Your doctor or nurse can test your stool (bowel movements) or urine to look for certain kinds of germs.
If your doctor or nurse can't tell what germs caused your infection, he or she will study your symptoms to decide how likely it is that you have reactive arthritis.
How is reactive arthritis treated? — The symptoms of reactive arthritis are treated with medicines, including:
NSAIDs – This is a large group of medicines that includes ibuprofen (sample brand names: Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (sample brand name: Aleve). Your doctor or nurse might prescribe a dose higher than you would normally take to relieve pain.
Other medicines – If NSAIDs do not help your symptoms, your doctor or nurse might give you a shot of steroids. Steroids help reduce inflammation. These are not the same as the steroids some athletes take illegally. Your doctor might also give you more steroids to take at home.
There are also other medicines that might help if your symptoms do not get better with NSAIDs or steroids.
Eye drops – Special drops can help relieve redness and irritation in your eyes. But if you have eye pain or trouble seeing, visit an eye doctor to make sure you don't have a more serious problem.
Antibiotics do not usually help with the joint symptoms of reactive arthritis. Even so, your doctor or nurse might prescribe them if you still have an infection.
When will I feel better? — Most people with reactive arthritis get better quickly. Some people continue to notice symptoms, either constantly or just once in a while.
If your back gets very stiff and sore, see your doctor or nurse. This might mean that your reactive arthritis has turned into a more serious problem.
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 30, 2020.
Topic 16733 Version 9.0
Release: 28.2.2 - C28.105
© 2020 UpToDate, Inc. and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.

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